My family lost the furry member of our family this month. She meant a great deal to us, and just how much so probably wasn’t even realized until we had to let her go. You see, she had come into our lives at a moment of transition. The oldest child in the family had just moved out on her own, and the family was adjusting from the day-to-day of living as a family of six to living as a family of five. It was the perfect time to add another member of the family to the home.
Mia was her name. She was special in so many ways. She had a lineage of national and international champions, and she was bred for greatness. A small genetic defect that effected her height and made her a little too short for the AKC standard for Labrador Retrievers is what brought her into our family at ten months. With her prospective future of being a champion in her own right being forgotten, she became a champion of sorts in our own family. I’ll never forget how excited I was when I found out we were finally getting a family dog. My mom poured over information online, and I was so happy to help her look into breeds and breeders. When it came up that a Labrador Retriever breeder we had been looking at had a 10 month old puppy that was for sale after no longer be eligible to be a show dog, we decided to take her, and she was a perfect fit for our family.
Mia was beautiful…absolutely stunning. With her chocolate eyes and beautiful, black fur, she was a quiet girl from the beginning. Her mild temperament fit our family to a tee. After some discussion, it was decided she would sleep in my room. She didn’t need to sleep in a crate for long, and soon, we were fast friends. I loved having her in my room. Even her loud snoring endeared her to me. She was shy at the beginning…it took our family two weeks to hear her bark for the first time. She was outside, at the fence, and she let out a single bark at the mischievous poodle mixes next door. You’ve probably never seen anyone as excited to hear a dog bark as we all were in that moment.
Mia was so gentle, yet we discovered her massive strength quickly. She would run “laps” around the house when she got really excited, and hearing her bang into the wall reminded one just how strong she really was. Her wagging tail made a bang-bang-bang noise against the dryer. I remember the first few weeks after we got her…my brother & I would get her up at 6 am and we were convinced her tail wagging over “breakfast!” would wake the entire house. When she was young, she would nip in excitement. Her bite was strong, so we taught her the term “nibble” and she would literally nibble at her toys or the hem of our clothing in excitement. One night, she took off chasing something in the backyard. We promptly heard a “squeak!!” and immediately called her in. She looked kind of funny, and we suddenly noticed a little brown leg sticking out of her jowls. We told her to “leave it”…and she spit out a bunny. The bunny was completely unharmed. Mia had caught it, but she hadn’t hurt it. She was just so careful with it. On more than one occasion, we discovered that “indestructible” toys weren’t so indestructible, and she liked tearing the stuffing out of more than one toy with a squeaker she especially wanted to get at, yet she was so very gentle with everything living she came in contact with. When my niece was a newborn, Mia was gentle and cautiously excited…it was like she completely understood it was a baby and that she needed to be very gentle.
Mia loved comfort. She discovered she could jump on my bed at night, and despite her large size, she jumped with the stealth of a cat and never woke me in doing this (save one time…which was hilarious. She looked at me guiltily and jumped off promptly). I would simply wake up the next morning to see a large ball of fur at the end of my bed. Once I accepted her sleeping on the bed, she began jumping up on the bed as soon as it was bedtime. I woke up with her face next to mine, on the pillow, on more than one occasion as she grew to love the comfort of sleeping in a bed. She loved her “cozy corners” in the house and would always work to fit herself it a corner- even if it was a bit too small. She loved the blanket she slept on when I eventually moved out and she no longer had a bed to sleep on, and she loved laying on the rugs around the house.
Mia loved food. She really, really, really loved food. She had a bit of a weight problem at the beginning of her life, as those eyes sucked everyone in to give her just a taste. In time, we learned to scale back, but it was always a joy to give Mia a little taste of something. She loved popcorn, peanut butter, and the taste of grilled meat my dad occasionally treated her to. Whenever I would make gingerbread cookies (which contain molasses), she would stand at the entrance to the kitchen and drool away. Something about the smell of molasses drove her crazy, and she would even try to enter the kitchen, from time to time, which was very unusual behavior for her. She loved getting peanut butter in her Kong, and pizza crust was her favorite. For the dog that ate everything, I about laughed until I cried when she spit out lettuce.
Mia was a genius. She had lived at the breeder’s home prior to making her home with us, so she was used to ten months of being with a bunch of other dogs and going where she pleased. My mom wouldn’t stand for Mia wandering underfoot in the kitchen during mealtimes and during food prep, so Mia quickly had the opportunity to show us how smart she was. The complex concept of “no kitchen” soon was a familiar one, and Mia understood and held to the boundaries of the kitchen. We were all so impressed that it wasn’t long before we started teaching her more tricks. When she was about five years old, I added up all the commands and terms she knew, and the number was around 300 at that time. I would approximate that she knew roughly 450 commands and terms by the end of her life. She was brilliant. She was so obedient, she would sit with food on her nose until you said “Okay.” One time, something happened and we had to go take care of it at the other end of the house…we came back, having forgotten about the trick, 40 minutes later, to sweet Mia with a pool of drool by her paws and the food still sitting atop her nose.
Mia also had a mischievous streak, which rarely showed itself. Having earned the term “Perfect Puppy” in our home, the times she acted up are truly memorable, and we laugh about them to this day. We hadn’t had her more than a few days when she tried to eat a side of ham off the counter. My dad’s “NO!” from across the kitchen was all she needed to know to never try that again. She showed her digging skills shortly after arriving in a truly astounding show of digging mastery. She went in a 360 around a spot in the yard where a stump had once been, and literally, within just a few seconds, she had made a hole about two feet deep. We watched in stunned amazement only a few short seconds before realizing that was problematic behavior, and, once again, a single “no!” is all it ever took for Mia to know to never try that again. She truly could have “dug to China”, as one person once said about the Labrador’s digging ability. Lastly, she jumped up on the dining room table, after a couple treats sat on the table for a couple days. We had all forgotten, but that smell must have tempted her out of her mind…she finally gave in and we all couldn’t believe our eyes when we walked out of the hallway to see our full-sized Labrador Retriever on top of the dining room table, gobbling down the treats.
Mia was a comforter. I remember when I had the virus from hell and eventually had to go to the hospital to rehydrate. For those two weeks, she stayed by my side. I remember when my mom had an allergic reaction and Mia faithfully stayed by her side as she lay on the couch all evening. We would call her “Nurse Mia” in those moments…she would get so silent, sit down riiiiight next to you, and simply put her head down right by you and look up at you with those large, feeling brown eyes. After surgeries, sicknesses, and diseases….Mia was always there. She never pushed you or hurt you…she truly helped nurse you back to health.
Mia’s eyes could talk. It’s one of the things we miss most, now. Mia could look at you and you could see the depths of her soul and it is as if she could read your heart. I remember going through a tough ending of a relationship, one of those moments most teenagers go through. I sat one the floor of my bedroom and cried, holding onto her neck. She sat there and let me cry for as long as I wanted. She didn’t go away. She didn’t lay down. She sat there and let me cry, as if she understood.
Mia was a part of our family. She was there as every child in our family became an adult…from the oldest child getting on her feet and eventually getting married to the youngest child preparing to be on her own. She saw all of us transition into adulthood. She supported my parents and she supported us. She was always there. My niece and nephew loved her. She was faithful and true, and she was our friend.
Mia spoiled us. I have always loved dogs, but, especially as I became an adult and traveled and met friend’s dogs, I found that no dog was like Mia. These dogs jumped and yapped and nipped. These dogs didn’t hold your gaze. These dogs weren’t Mia. Mia, in my biased opinion, was the dog of all dogs.
Mia’s health began declining awhile ago, as she aged, but it wasn’t until this year we started seriously realizing the time was nearing. A couple weeks before we said goodbye, she really turned a corner. It became real and tangible and certain- she wouldn’t see 2016. I’ve lived on my own for several years now, and I have my own family and my own home. I couldn’t believe the impact the news had on my heart. I’ve always loved Mia, and I would tell anyone she is “my girl”, and that hasn’t changed since I got married. She was such a huge part of my life that my first social media account (in the times of MySpace) was “miasroomate” (misspelled in my young age). I taught her tons of the tricks she knew. I was impacted to the core to realize I was going to have to say goodbye. As I considered why, I realized the vital role in our lives Mia had taken.
Mia had been a gift from God for a season of transition in the lives of everyone in our family. In a large way, all four children in our family transitioned into adulthood during Mia’s time in our family. Mia was there for the ups and downs of growing up. She was there when we cried, and she was there when we laughed. She was there when we hurt, and she was there when times couldn’t be better. She loved us with an unconditional love that truly reflects God’s love for us. And when it was time to put her down, it was time to show her that same love.
We didn’t want to say goodbye. Most of us got to be there, and we all sat with her, hugged her neck, cried, said goodbye, and were there with her as she drew her last breath. It was hard. It brings tears to my eyes now. But we knew she was in pain and it was time, and for all the times she was there for us, it was time to be there for her.
The memories of Mia are sweet. I now have the table she jumped on top of to get the treats, and her nail marks are visible, in the right light. There is a certain understanding between people who have lost a dear pet, and it is something that is hard to understand without going through it yourself. It’s a bittersweet camaraderie of sweet memories and pain-filled moments of knowing it is all in the past.
I can’t say I know how to best come to closure over all Mia meant to me and my family, but I believe celebrating what she meant and the way God blessed us though her is a great way to start. This single post can’t sum up all Mia meant, but it can forever be a memory of some of it. In the words of my father….Mia, “Thanks for the memories.” We will always love you and thank God for the time we had with you.
Pets mean so much to us. They are truly furry members of our families. We celebrate our pets and all they mean to us. We love them…and then we let them go. Yet, it is so worth it. I am so glad I had Mia and I am so thankful she was a part of my life for the season I got to have her.
Dedicated, with love, to Mia…March 13th, 2003-July 1st, 2015
to her cousin Bingley…May 29th, 2002-July 19th, 2005